Ernani Synopsis

The Story of Verdi's Opera, Ernani

Verdi's Ernani
Verdi's Ernani. Hulton Archive/Stringer/Getty Images

Composer: Giuseppe Verdi

Premiered: March 9, 1844 - La Fenice Theatre, Venice

Setting of Ernani: Verdi's Ernani takes place in 16th century Spain.

Other Verdi Opera Synopses:
Falstaff, La Traviata, Rigoletto, & Il Trovatore

Ernani, ACT 1
High in the mountains overlooking Aragon, Don Juan and his group of bandits converse. Don Juan has lost his title and wealth during a recent civil war and has taken the name of Ernani. The bandits ask why he seems so gloomy. He tells them he longs for his lover, Elvira, but she is being forced to marry her older uncle, Don Ruy Gomez de Silva. Ernani and the bandits devise a plan to abduct and rescue Elvira.

Inside Elvira's chambers, she is delivered her wedding dress. Distraught over the arranged marriage, Elvira sings a song about her love for Ernani. Don Carlo, King of Spain, enters her room disguised as a peasant. He confesses his love for her, but she recognizes him and tells him that her heart belongs to Ernani. As the king prepares to abduct her, Ernani arrives and begins fighting him. Not only did the king take away Ernani's land and wealth, he was about to steal his girl. Moments later, Silva walks in the room. Before recognizing the king, he challenges both men to a duel. When Don Carlo's messenger arrives and reveals the king's identity, Silva immediately asks for forgiveness to which the king grants. Don Carlo dismisses Ernani. Before taking leave, Ernani whispers to Elvira to prepare to flee.

Ernani, ACT 2
Within the halls of Silva's palace, Ernani enters disguised as a pilgrim. Silva allows him to stay inside the palace. Ernani finds Elvira and she is overjoyed - she thought he was dead. She tells Ernani that she planned to kill herself at the altar. As the two embrace, Silva catches them and becomes furious. Moments later, it is announced that the king has arrived, and Silva tells Ernani that because he granted him shelter, he will keep Ernani safe from the king. Silva hides Ernani before he speaks with the king. Silva is intensely questioned by the king, as the king suspects he may be harboring the criminal. Silva maintains that Ernani is not there despite the king's continued search of the palace. Elvira finds the king and pleads for Ernani's life, but the king abducts her. Meanwhile, Silva returns to Ernani's hiding place and the two begin to quarrel before realizing that the king has taken Elvira. Ernani makes a deal with Silva that if the two work together to stop the king, Ernani will give a horn to Silva. Whenever Silva sounds the horn, Ernani will take his own life. Silva agrees to help Ernani under the proposed conditions and prepares his men for battle with the king.

Ernani, ACT 3
Near the tomb of Charlemagne, Don Carlo is about to be declared the next Holy Roman Emperor. He vows to himself to change his life for the better. Behind the tomb, Ernani, Silva, and Silva's men gather and discuss their plans to murder Don Carlo. Don Carlo overhears their plot, and when he is crowned as the Holly Roman Emperor, he immediately orders the conspirators and noblemen to be executed and the commoners to be imprisoned. Ernani steps forward and reveals his true identity as Don Juan of Aragon. Elvira begs for the king's mercy. Then with a sudden change of heart, Don Carlo grants forgiveness to Elvira and Ernani. He restores Ernani's past wealth and status ​and even gives Elvira to Ernani for marriage.

Ernani, ACT 4
After Ernani and Elvira's wedding, the two happily celebrate. During their celebrations, a loud horn can be heard in the distance. As if suddenly hit by a freight train, Ernani remembers his oath with Silva. Moments later, the horn sounds again and Silva enters the room. Ernani sends Elvira away and asks Silva for a few more moments with his lover. Silva demands that Ernani fulfill his promise and hands him a dagger. As Elvira comes back into the room, Ernani plunges the dagger deep within his heart. Elvira rushes to him and holds him in her arms as he dies.